The big test: Insulated jackets reviewed (2018)

If you want to stop on a mountain to drink in the view, an insulated jacket will take away the chill – but should you choose a fleece jacket, a down jacket or a synthetic insulated jacket? Trail headed to the hills to find out...

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The runners up


Haglofs Heron Hood £100

Tester: Tim Butcher

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  • Material Pontetorto Technostretch fleece

  • Men’s S-XL

  • Women’s XS-XL

  • Weight 425g (men’s XL)

The fleece fabric on this jacket has a good abrasion-resistant finish on the outside, while on the inside it’s quite fluffy to add more warmth. The hood was the best fitting out of the fleece jackets that I have used too, and so overall it feels very comfortable and ideal to wear as part of a layering system. However it is quite a lightweight fleece, so its use is limited to that of a mid layer in warmer weather. On cold days or for winter in Scotland I’d need either a thicker main insulation layer or an additional insulation layer to stay warm. I also noticed the wind driving through this layer easily. The price makes it feel like a luxury for something that won’t keep you warm year-round. But this lightweight fleece is ideal for walking in the UK from late spring through to early autumn.

Pros

Price, weight, packed size, great hood, works well as a warm-weather mid layer.

Cons

Not warm enough for colder spring or autumn days and so extra layers will be needed regularly and more so in winter.

Buy it if

You want an excellent fleece jacket for walking in warmer conditions.


Rab Alpha Flux £140

Tester: Jon Bennett

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  • Materials Polartec Alpha synthetic insulation

  • Men’s S-XXL

  • Women’s 8-16

  • Weight 328g (M)

Polartec Alpha insulation has a core of lofted knit fibres, so it traps more air than fleece, and offers far more insulation, which makes it ideal as an additional layer to throw on over other layers when the temperature dips. It’s also exceptionally breathable, therefore it works well under waterproof layers. This jacket also gets stretch side panels, giving it a closer fit than other jackets and again making it ideal as part of a layering system. I also liked the way the hood fitted and moved with my head. It’s not the warmest option though. Yes it is great as an additional layer when moving, which is what it is designed for, but when sitting around I’d need extra insulation on colder days. It’s not that windproof either, so expect to need a wind or waterproof shell over the top to stay warm.

Pros

Weight and packed size, price, great hood, works well as part of a layering system when moving.

Cons

Warmer than fleece, but you’ll need extra insulation in cold weather, especially if not moving.

Buy it if

You want extra insulation to wear as part of a layering system while moving.


Arc’teryx Cerium SL Hoody £270

Tester: Graham Thompson

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  • Materials 850 fill power down, Coreloft synthetic insulation on shoulders and cuffs

  • Men’s S-XXL

  • Women’s XS-L

  • Weight 236g (men’s L)

A new jacket using very efficient 850 fill power down, which ensures you get an extremely low weight. But importantly you also get synthetic Coreloft insulation in areas that may collect moisture, which would impact on the down performance, so this is placed on the cuffs and shoulders and also at the top of the front zip. Another huge benefit of this jacket is that you get rear cord volume adjustment on the hood, so it fits really well and moves effortlessly with the head. There is a hem drawcord too – a feature many jackets lack. You also get two main pockets. The main drawbacks are the price and it’s not quite the warmest option. But if you can afford it (and another jacket for colder winter days) this is a great jacket for year-round use.

Pros

Weight and packed size, warm enough for mild conditions, great hood, additional synthetic insulation.

Cons

Price, not quite warm enough in winter, no cuff adjustment, slightly short body compared to others.

Buy it if

You want a very lightweight insulated jacket for spring to autumn and on the mildest winter days.



The top three


Berghaus Privitale 2.0 Extrem Fleece Hoodie £90

Tester: Tim Butcher

This is a modern, practical fleece jacket, but is it warm enough to beat the chill you’ll experience at the lofty heights of a mountaintop lookout?

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  • Material Stretch polyester fleece

  • Men’s S-XXL

  • Women’s n/a

  • Weight 593g (XL)

It’s good

The Privitale is an immensely comfortable and warm jacket at a great price for what you get. Its stretch polyester fleece fabric has a tight knit on the outside to improve wear, while inside the looser knit increases warmth and comfort. The fit is close but as the fleece is very stretchy it does not restrict movement. The hood is particularly well-designed with a close fit, and turns with the head easily. The baffle behind the zip, long sleeves with thumb loops and generous back length protected my 6ft 2in body well to keep out draughts and retain body warmth. A great benefit over many jackets is that the pockets are large and easily accessed while wearing a rucksack. Also as fleece is very breathable this works great under a waterproof jacket as part of a layering system. The Privitale is versatile enough to be worn over a base layer and under a waterproof jacket, so it can be used as your main insulated layer or as back-up insulation.

However

Whilst I’d be happy with this as my only mid-layer on most hill days, I’d still want something a little warmer and with more wind resistance, such as a down or synthetic insulated jacket, for back-up in autumn or winter, particularly for camping on the hill or for bothy nights or for really snowy Scottish mountains days. While I like the price tag, I’d be happy to pay a few extra pounds for a hem drawcord to lock out drafts and retain the great fit if I was lucky enough to lose a few pounds in weight on a trip. But the main drawback here is the weight and bulk of this jacket compared to warmer jackets, as any back-up jacket that is spending much of the day in the rucksack needs to be as light and compact as possible, and others are better in this department. Sadly there is no women’s option either.

Verdict

For me it’s the perfect mid layer, providing reassuring warmth and ease of movement at a great price, but others are lighter and offer more weather resistance.

  • Features 4/5

  • Packability 3/5

  • Weatherproofness 3/5

  • In use 4/5

  • Value for money 5/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 76%


Montane Icarus / Phoenix £150 

Tester: Jon Bennett

Does the latest Primaloft Thermoplume insulation make this jacket ideal for taking on the hill when extra warmth is needed at a reasonable price?

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  • Material Primaloft Thermoplume

  • Men’s S-XXL (Icarus)

  • Women’s 8-16 (Phoenix)

  • Weight 605g (M)

It’s good

New for 2018 and made from the latest Primaloft Plume insulation, which is said to offer similar levels of performance to 550 fill power down. Not surprisingly perhaps, this was very warm – in fact the warmest jacket we tested. The outer Pertex Quantum Eco nylon shell fends off wind and moisture well, and is also reasonably breathable so you don’t get sweaty. This jacket feels pretty warm and cosy, with a good length, well-insulated hood, and elasticated cuffs and hem to lock out draughts. The two main handwarmer pockets are well placed to allow access even when a rucksack is worn, and there’s a third useful GPS receiver-sized zipped chest pocket. So this jacket is ideal for stopping for a brew on the hill or sitting around a bothy or campsite, with the added bonus that the synthetic insulation won’t be impacted by dampness as much as a down jacket. It’s as warm as a down jacket too, but with a far less chilling price.

However

It costs more than a fleece and is quite heavy and bulky too. So while great in terms of warmth, you may think twice about carrying it regularly in your rucksack. It’s not as breathable as a more open-knit fleece either, so isn’t so great for walking with. Also, while the fit was good, the hood doesn’t move quite as well with my head as the hoods on some other jackets, and the cuffs didn’t fit as neatly as they could. As there is no Velcro adjustment on the cuffs there is no way of tightening or loosening the fit here to allow the cuff to fit over gloves. The hem is elasticated, but again has no additional adjustment. This jacket is great in terms of warmth but it could be too warm for mild autumn days, so with its extra weight and bulk this is one for colder days only.

Verdict

Great for stopping out on a cold, British winter mountain, with a price that’s more attractive than a down equivalent. But the weight and packed size are drawbacks.

  • Features 4/5

  • Packability 3/5

  • Weatherproofness 5/5

  • In use 4/5

  • Value for money 4/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 80%


Mountain Equipment Arete Hooded £160  

Tester: Graham Thompson

Down insulation is extremely efficient, so is this lightweight jacket the best option for stashing in your rucksack as a back-up jacket?

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  • Material 700 fill power down

  • Men’s S-XXL

  • Women’s 8-16 

  • Weight 370g (M)

It’s good

The use of 700 fill power down inside this jacket ensures that it is very lightweight. It also packs down small, and both of these features make it great for stashing in a rucksack just in case you need it on the top of the mountain. The level of insulation is less than the heavier, synthetic Montane jacket featured here, but more than fleece, making this a great general-purpose jacket for autumn and spring. And for me it is just about warm enough for mild winter conditions too. The outer is a lightweight Helium 20 nylon which fends off wind better than fleece and keeps some moisture away from the down. The hood and cuffs are only elasticated, but you do get a hem drawcord so you can fine-tune the fit more easily than some others. There are just two main pockets and these are placed low to make them good for hand-warming. The price is also more attractive than some other down jackets you could consider!

However

For the depths of winter you may need something even warmer if camping in snow or sitting around for long periods high on a snowy mountain. As the Arete uses down, lots more care is needed to ensure this jacket stays dry, as its insulating performance drops off dramatically if it does get wet. Also, of course, this is not as breathable as a more open knit fleece, so it’s not one for wearing while walking. While the fit is okay, the hood disappoints in this area and did not turn easily with my head. Also some adjustment on the hood and cuffs would be a real benefit. The pockets are okay, but again on other jackets these are placed higher or are bigger or there is a third chest pocket. There are some niggles with this jacket and you can get lower-priced fleece or synthetic jackets if cash is tight. 

Verdict

Ideal for stowing in a pack year-round just in case it gets chilly, but some lower-priced jackets are warmer or perform better if damp.  

  • Features 4/5

  • Packability 4/5

  • Weatherproofness 4/5

  • In use 5/5

  • Value for money 4/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 84%

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Berghaus Parione (2012)

The lowest in price and also the lightest top in our test (306g size UK 12), the Berghaus Parione proves that you don’t have to pay a fortune for a top-quality, well-fitting fleece suitable for walking, scrambling and mountaineering. Berghaus has cleverly combined light but warm Polartec Classic Micro fabric on the main body and arms of this jacket with AT Stretch material on the hood, at the sides, under the arms and over the hands with thumb loops – so you have great freedom of movement reaching for holds. The two side zip pockets open and close easily with one gloved hand, but the arm pocket could do with a zip pull cord for easier glove-handed opening. There is no hem drawcord, but it doesn’t feel necessary as the fit and drop tail are spot on. The Berghaus Parione’s stretch fabric thumb loops are very comfy, and the arms are made suitably longer to prevent the sleeves being overstretched when the thumb loops are in use. The hood fits the head snugly enough without a drawcord, but it could do with coming a little lower down the forehead for more protection. The top of the zip would also be better with slightly more protection from a larger inner flap to make it more comfy on the chin.

Weight 306g
Pockets 2 side, 1 arm
Material Polartec Classic Micro and AT Stretch
Thumb loops yes
Hood yes
Men’s version yes
Website www.berghaus.com

 

Verdict

The Berghaus Parione is a great budget option (it won our ‘Best Value’ award) for walking and scrambling with great freedom of movement, and a good level of warmth for its light weight.

Review by Claire Maxted
First published in Trail magazine October 2012


Icebreaker Cascade Full Zip (2012)

As it’s made from merino wool, you could honestly live in the Icebreaker Cascade Full Zip for months without washing it because of its natural antibacterial properties. Made from Icebreaker’s RealFleece (260g/m2), this is a thick, warm full-zip jacket that keeps you very toasty but also breathes well so you shouldn’t ever get clammy. You can feel stronger wind through the material, so it is best worn under a wind- or waterproof jacket in such conditions. The collar is soft and snug around the neck but the cuffs are a little baggy and there are no thumb loops for extra hand warmth. The rest of the Icebreaker Cascade Full Zip is well-fitting and very smart, meaning you could wear this top as casual wear too as it doesn’t scream “I’m a hillwalker!” The absence of a hem drawcord is not noticeable as it fits well around the bum, with a slight drop tail to add to the warmth and cover your kidneys when reaching up for rock holds when scrambling. The two side pockets are just about accessible with a rucksack hipbelt and there’s also a small lipsalve/iPod pocket on the arm. The Icebreaker Cascade Full Zip’s weight is reasonable at 422g (size UK12) without a hood or thumb loops.

Weight 422g
Pockets 2 side, 1 arm
Material Realfleece merino wool weight 260g/m2
Thumb loops no
Hood no (Cascade Hood available though)
Men’s version yes
Website heu2.icebreaker.com

 

Verdict

The Icebreaker Cascade Full Zip is a very warm, smart and well-fitting natural fleece jacket that’s especially great for multi-day trekking when washing facilities are non-existent.

Review by Claire Maxted
First published in Trail magazine October 2012


Vaude Shipton Hooded (2012)

The innovative hood design stands out as soon as you put the Vaude Shipton Hooded on. As you can see from the picture, it rises from inside the collar to make the fit really snug around the head and move with you. There are no hood adjusters, so as long as your head fits inside this is a great design. Made from Polartec Power Stretch, this is a great ‘warm but light’ (384g size UK 12) jacket that wicks sweat fast and has excellent freedom of movement for scrambling, some wind resistance from the tightly woven outer and a warm, fluffy inside. The Vaude Shipton Hooded would suit people with longer arms and there is plenty of reach for scramble holds. The thumb holes are slightly large, but the rest of the cut is excellent – slim and sporty – so the lack of a drawcord is not noticeable. The zip is two-way so you can vent from the waist if required, the two side pockets are high enough not to be obscured by a hipbelt, and the small, high chest pocket is a useful extra. The wide loop zip pulls are the best here for use with gloves on. The Vaude Shipton Hooded is also eco-friendly enough to be Bluesign-approved as it’s made from 90 per cent recycled materials and underwent the Vaude low-CO2 ecolour dyeing process.

Weight 384g
Pockets 2 side, 1 chest
Material Polartec Power Stretch
Thumb loops yes
Hood yes
Men’s version yes
Website www.vaude.co.uk

 

Verdict

The Vaude Shipton Hooded is an excellent, eco-friendly, warm jacket that’s stretchy enough for walking, scrambling and mountaineering, and has all the features you need.

Review by Claire Maxted
First published in Trail magazine October 2012


Columbia Thermarator II (2012)

Dazzling silver dots line the inside of the Columbia Thermarator II, reflecting heat back at you like an emergency blanket – and keeping you 20 per cent warmer, Columbia claims. This is Omni-Heat thermal reflective technology, and along with a high level of windproofing from the bonded fleece outer it makes this jacket one of the warmest in our test. However this does come at a cost as the Thermarator II is quite bulky and ever so slightly on the heavy side at 450g (size UK12), without a hood. The fit is quite short at the back with no drop tail and it’s quite snug around the under arms and chest, so arm movement is only okay rather than excellent despite sensibly placed stretch panels under the arms and at the sides. Also, if you reach up for a hold the jacket may not be quite long enough for taller folk. The same stretch material is used for the very comfy thumb loop cuffs, which block out any draughts. The Columbia Thermarator II’s zips are very easy to use with gloves on and the two pockets are almost high enough to access while wearing a hipbelt. The hem drawcord keeps cold air off your kidneys nicely, and the velvet-feel collar wraps around your neck luxuriously.

Weight 450g
Pockets 2 side
Material 100% polyester with 280g Thermarator fleece and elastane Thermo stretch 280g Thermal Reflective
Thumb loops yes
Hood no
Men’s version yes
Website www.columbiasportswear.co.uk

 

 

Verdict

The Columbia Thermarator II is a very warm, wind-resistant and comfy but slightly heavy and bulky jacket that’s better for walking rather than scrambling due to some restriction in movement.

Review by Claire Maxted
First published in Trail magazine October 2012


Rohan Gradient (2012)

Rather excitingly, this jacket is reversible – so it’s almost like getting two tops for the price of one! The warmest way round to wear the Rohan Gradient is fleecy side inwards, to trap air next to your body with the tightly knitted, snag-resistant and durable polyester on the outside as shown in the photo. The two fabrics are held together by wind-resistant bonding rather than a stiff windproof laminate, so the jacket blocks wind very well without stiffness. Worn this way you can also zip it together with Rohan’s Interchange compatible shell jackets to create an insulated waterproof coat. On warmer days, you can reverse the Rohan Gradient for less of an insulated windproof and open the easily accessed, glove-friendly pockets on both sides to create two venting holes. The jacket is quite stretchy, but as it’s slightly shorter on the arms and body, with no drop tail, it can ride up when reaching for scramble holds; however the hem drawcord keeps out the draughts. The weight is ever so slightly on the heavier side at 453g (size UK12) without a hood or thumb loops, and the Rohan Gradient is bulkier than some of the lighter-weight fleeces we looked at.

Weight 453g
Pockets 2 side, 2 side inner
Material 100% polyester fleece inner with high-gauge outer and wind-resistant bonding
Thumb loops no
Hood no
Men’s version yes
Website www.rohan.co.uk

 

Verdict

The Rohan Gradient is a very warm, versatile, highly windproof and comfy fleece that’s great for walking, but there’s not quite enough freedom of movement or long enough arm and back lengths for scrambling.

Review by Claire Maxted
First published in Trail magazine October 2012


Brynje Arctic Double with Hood (2012)

Norway has given us a very interesting departure from the norm here. Merino wool (220g/m2) is combined with a moisture-wicking inner mesh for a massive warmth boost as insulating pockets of air are trapped next to the skin. The merino, although thick, is not very wind-resistant, so for breezy days this jacket is best combined with a wind- or waterproof for maximum warmth. When used with a windproof outer this fleece is in the running for the warmest on test, but this does come at a cost. This jacket weighs 547g (size UK12), a good 100g more than most here and almost twice the lightest, so it’s one to wear all day rather than carry around ‘just in case’. The hood is great – adjustable and with enough material at the neck to accommodate full up-and-down movement for scrambling and more. There’s great freedom of movement throughout, and the jacket is nicely long in the body and arms so you’ll get no cold spots when reaching for holds. One easily rectified downside to this jacket is the tiny zip pulls, which are hard to operate with big gloves on.

Weight 547g
Pockets 2 side
Material merino wool weight 220g/m2, with polypropylene mesh lining
Thumb loops yes
Hood yes
Men’s version yes
Website www.nordiclifeuk.co.uk

 

Verdict

The Brynje Arctic Double with Hood is a very warm but heavy natural fibre jacket for all-day wear in winter conditions with great freedom of movement for walking, scrambling and climbing.

Review by Claire Maxted
First published in Trail magazine October 2012

The North Face Radish Mid Layer (2012)

A very durable option for hard mountain use, the The North Face Radish Mid Layer has reinforced shoulder and hip zones for increased protection from rucksack straps and weighs a very reasonable 410g (size UK12). The material is a wind-resistant, polyester hard-face stretch fleece with a micro-check brushed inner side (think tiny grid-like squares of fleece) that trap air to keep you warmer, and allow moisture to wick away quickly. The TNF Radish Mid Layer is the only jacket in our test with no side pockets, so there is no chance of obstruction with a hipbelt during alpine activities, and the chest pocket is large enough for a pair of gloves, guidebook and/or snack. The North Face’s FlashDry technology should also make this jacket dry quickly. The ‘Ninja’-style hood fits well and moves well with the head, and the zip stormflap is wide with comfy brushed fleece at the chin and upper chest. The fit is great – sporty and slim with stretch panels at the sides and under the arms, and a drop tail and arms long enough to accommodate climbing and scrambling. The only downside is the stretchy thumb loops, which others may find perfect but I found a bit tight, with a bulky seam between thumb and forefinger.

Weight 410g
Pockets 1 chest
Material 92% polyester and Pontetorto Fleece with FlashDry Technology
Thumb loops yes
Hood yes
Men’s version yes
Website uk.thenorthface.com

 

Verdict

The North Face’s Radish Mid Layer is a fantastically hard-wearing, quick-drying and warm fleece with great features for walking, scrambling and alpine climbing.

Review by Claire Maxted
First published in Trail magazine October 2012


Haglöfs Bungy Q Zip Hood (2012)

The Haglöfs Bungy Q Zip Hood is a lightweight yet durable fleece that has all the features you’d want for winter walking, scrambling and mountaineering. It’s made from Polartec Power Stretch, which gives light (342g, size UK12) but warm insulation, wicks sweat quickly and provides excellent freedom of movement for all cold-weather activities. The tighter outer weave has some wind resistance while the inner is soft, comfy and warm next to the skin. The arms are long enough to reach for scramble holds and the thumb loops fit well, with a more durable, low-bulk soft shell section under the thumb making for a close, comfy fit that also helps retain heat nicely. The two side pockets are high enough to access when wearing a hipbelt, while the smaller arm pocket is handy for lipsalve or an iPod. There’s a hem drawcord to complete the neat fit, and there’s an easily adjustable hood – the best here for all head shapes and sizes. Better still, when you pull the elastic tight it forms a small peak at the forehead for further protection from the elements. The Bungy Q Zip is also Bluesign-certified so you know it meets high environmental and health and safety standards.

Weight 342g
Pockets 2 side, 1 arm
Material Polartec Power Stretch
Thumb loops yes
Hood yes
Men’s version yes
Website www.haglofs.com

 

Verdict

The Haglöfs Bungy Q Zip Hood is an excellent, fully adjustable, warm yet lightweight fleece with all the right features. Perfect for the hillwalker, scrambler and mountaineer, it won our ‘Best in Test’ accolade.

Review by Claire Maxted
First published in Trail magazine October 2012


Páramo Velez Adventure Light Smock 2011

Páramo was making soft shells before the term was coined. The Velez Adventure Light Smock is a classic design that has proven its worth over the years. It’s made of Nikwax Analogy Light, which is extremely breathable while keeping the wearer dry from all but the worst rain.
The jacket weighs a little more than others, but it’s also a notch warmer and packed with practical features. First, the smock design allows for a massive chest pocket, ideal for maps and guidebooks.
There are two zips that open up the sides of the jacket to allow airflow, but they also provide access to an internal tunnel pocket that can be used to warm the hands. The hood is pretty good too, thanks to a wired peak and rear drawcord adjusters.
I’ve used the Páramo Velez Adventure Light Smock a great many times and find it ideal for mountain biking and walking, particularly in colder climates. But as with all smock designs there is less ventilation at the front.
Trail has found the fabric a little less durable than other options, and while it is easy to stitch the fabric once torn, it’s clearly better if it doesn’t tear in the first place.

Material Nikwax Analogy Light
Weight 620g (size men’s L)
External pockets 1
Internal pockets 2
Hood yes
Pit zips no
Men’s sizes XS-XXL
Women’s sizes XS-XL
Website www.paramo.co.uk

The Páramo Velez Adventure Light Smock uses unique material in a smock design that offers a massive chest pocket and lots of venting, but it may not be right for everyone.

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine October 2011


Mammut Ultimate Advanced 2011

The Mammut Ultimate Advanced jacket is a good example of what’s possible with Gore Windstopper fabric, which has a microporous membrane sandwiched between the outer and inner layers to make the fabric windproof and breathable while also allowing it to shed light rain. It doesn’t feel quite as warm as other fabrics, but this could be an advantage as you can always wear an extra base layer or microfleece underneath.
There are pit zips to provide venting if you overheat, which makes this a good jacket for a wide range of walking conditions.
There is no hood, so if you get caught in a gale you’ll need to grab a hat from somewhere to keep your head warm and dry. For me, not having a hood lets this jacket down a great deal.
That aside, the chest pockets are superb as they’re mesh-lined and can be used for extra venting. Also, I like the addition of external abrasion-resistant panels on the shoulders to prevent wear under a rucksack.
I still think the Mammut Ultimate Advanced’s price tag is pretty high compared with other jackets, but for general hill use this soft shell jacket is a good option.

Material Gore-Tex Windstopper
Weight 522g (size men’s L)
External pockets 2
Internal pockets 0
Hood no
Pit zips yes
Men’s sizes S-XXL
Women’s sizes none
Website www.mammut.ch

Large chest pockets and ample venting make the Mammut Ultimate Advanced ideal for a wide range of conditions, although the price tag is less appealing.

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine October 2011